Hollywood’s dirty secret to make stars look younger is more common than you realize

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Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in 2010’s “The Tourist.”
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GK Films

If you’ve ever wondered how your favorite star can look forever resistant to age, well, it turns out there’s some technique behind it.

That actor may be getting digitally retouched.

Special effects aren’t just used to create huge explosions or herds of dinosaurs that trample everything in their path. They also can and do take pimples off of teen stars, erase years off actors’ faces, and elongate bodies to create slimmer physiques.

“Nobody looks like what you see on TV and in the movies – everybody is altered,” Claus Hansen, a beauty-work pioneer at the video-retouching company Method Studios, told Mashable.

Many actors require the use of digital retouching (or “beauty work”), though it’s done very secretly.

“For a top actress, it’s usually non-contractual with us, so that that document never gets out,” a top entertainment attorney said anonymously in Vulture’s recent feature on digital retouching. “It’s in everyone’s best interest that she not look haggard and that her jowls don’t look too old or whatever.”

The article points to the “suspiciously plasticky” 2010 film “The Tourist,” which starred Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.

Here’s what Vulture and Mashable’s stories expose about the secret use of digital retouching in movies and TV:


Digital retouching isn’t just for the ladies.

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Paul Reubens in “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.”
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Glen Wilson/Netflix

Michael Shannon, who played Zod in “Batman v Superman,” said digital retouching could be a leading man’s best friend, too.

“In postproduction, if they want your nose to be a little smaller or a little bigger, that’s up to them, man,” Shannon said. “Some attractive person gets out of a swimming pool dripping wet? Nobody wants to see how they really look: It’s fantasy.”

And at age 63, Paul Reubens was emphatic about casting a younger actor to play his iconic character Pee-wee Herman in Netflix’s “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.” But digital retouching made it possible for him to play the timeless character again.

“Pee-wee doesn’t work, to me, with age mixed into it,” Reubens told The New York Times. “So I knew I wanted digital retouching.”


It sure isn’t cheap.

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Netflix

“That was my biggest concern from the get-go, with [producer Judd Apatow], when it came to budgeting,” Reubens explained of the cost of digital retouching for “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” “Because it costs a fortune. I could have had a face-lift and we would have saved $2 million.”


The technique is also used to make the young and beautiful even younger and more beautiful.

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Naya Rivera and Lea Michele on Fox’s “Glee.”
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Fox

Hollywood veterans don’t hold the monopoly on digital retouching. Producers are using the tech on young actors as well. Pimples, for example, don’t have to be an embarrassing situation. On “Glee,” a director revealed, “There was a pimple pass on most episodes.”

And even the best-looking people on the planet, models, get a helping hand from the tech.

Visual-effects supervisor Jim Rider, whose credits include “Vinyl” and “Foxcatcher,” said, “I’ve done beauty retouching on women who are practically supermodels.”


CGI may make you reconsider an actor’s “body” of work.

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Jack O’Connell in “Unbroken.”
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Universal/Unbroken trailer

Today, Christian Bale wouldn’t need to drop a deadly 63 pounds for “The Machinist.” Digital retouching can take the physical element out of preparing for a role. For example, Jack O’Connell was saved from having to lose all the weight necessary to play an American soldier in a Japanese POW camp in Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken.”

And “Homeland” simply hid star Claire Danes’ pregnancy by digitally replacing her baby bump with a model’s flat torso.

But, of course, beauty work begs to be abused by Hollywood. In cases in which the star simply disliked his or her entire body, Hansen told Mashable, “We have taken actresses’ faces and put them on more muscular bodies … that happens all the time.”

Beauty and physicality are really just the tip of the iceberg for computer-generated imagery, or CGI, in Hollywood. It is being used in all kinds of unexpected performance-enhancing ways, according to Vulture and Mashable.


Watch the visual-effects tricks in action.

Vulture put together this video showing what a good VFX team can do to digitally retouch an actor’s face.